Think About It: Bowled over

I am not someone anyone could possibly call a football fan, but I am a football loyalist. By that I mean I root for and monitor wins and loses of the Seattle Seahawks, my hometown team, and the Washington Huskies, my alma mater. I feel the same sadness of an ardent fan when they lose important games which both did, ending their 2018 seasons.

I also have fond memories of my dad’s enjoyment of football. I’m not sure I ever saw him happier in his old age than when he was watching a football game, then Saturday and Sunday fare. Sadly, he had a chronic disease that would take his life, but I always predicted if he was alive at the start of football season, he would live to see the Super Bowl. I was wrong; he died in August 1987.

I happened to enter the University of Washington when the Huskies went on to win their second in a row Rose Bowl title. Those were the days when the Rose Bowl was a very big deal. It was one of only six bowl games, which means only 12 teams made it to a bowl game. They were the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach bowls.

You may recall if you’re really old that the original New Year’s Day bowl games were the Rose Bowl (originated in 1902), Orange Bowl (1933), Sugar Bowl (1935), Sun Bowl (1936) Cotton Bowl (1937) and Bacardi Bowl (1937).

Bowl creep

Ordinarily I wouldn’t be delving into bowl games, but my interest sparked when, while reading the Sequim Gazette, I accidentally came across Gazette editor Michael Dashiell’s predictions for 14 bowl games. Despite the risk to my Gazette column future, I couldn’t resist chiding him a bit, especially after the results were known.

Good sport that he was, though, he tolerated my questions about the number of bowl games and informed me that it wasn’t 14 bowl games, it was an astonishing 40 bowl games (plus the national championship) and that he had predictions for them all.

I’m not entirely out of the bowl loop. I knew that someone or group had sabotaged the Rose Bowl, the “Granddaddy of Them All,” Tournament of Roses, parade and all, mystique in the 1990s. All I understood then was that the Rose Bowl would not be held on New Year’s Day every year which signaled the death of a football tradition along with the death of my interest in the Rose Bowl.

Now, having renewed interest, I decided to find out what happened and what was behind the bowl game explosion. It was beginning to turn into either an elaborate scheme or sorcery played out most likely for some sort of gain.

The deciders who turned out to be 10 football conference schools plus Notre Dame (Wikipedia) agreed to establish a college bowl playoff system using rankings and other alchemy that ended in naming the national college football championship. Whatever formula tried or used was open to criticism. I found it too confusing to attempt an explanation.

Apparently, the wizards did too because they gave up defending it in 2007. Instead, the national championship would be decided by a game between the two top teams held a week or so after the last bowl game. Neither of those teams played in New Year’s Day bowl games. I learned from editor Mike that the Rose Bowl hosts a semi-final game every three years. I read that the semi-finals occur in earlier bowl games, though, probably not the Cheez-it or Famous Idaho Potato Bowls.

Follow the money … or lack of

Corporate sponsorship of bowl games began sometime in the 1980s for the obvious reason. Bowl games needed more money to operate successfully; costs were going up. Not surprising, given we imbue sports stadiums with corporate sponsorships like Safeco and T-Mobile, that we would do the same for bowl games.

Corporation interest in being aligned with a televised bowl event was high and accounts for part of the proliferation of bowl games. In fact, so many bowl game opportunities were created, college football ran out eligible teams!

Think about it. What were their options? Fewer bowl games and lose money or change the eligibility? Of course, make more teams eligible to play in a bowl game! Bowl eligibility today, with a couple of exceptions, is that a team must have as many or more wins as losses (in most cases 6-6 or better, not counting losses in conference championship games).

When Mike told me the eligibility, I couldn’t help but think about how it fit with a culture of everyone gets a blue ribbon and no one feels bad or left out. I think that’s OK for first-graders, but college football?

I couldn’t help but wonder if bowl games were losing their audience for too many neutral grey games without a competitive edge. I am sure it appeals to football loyalists who follow and root for their own school or hometown team, but we loyalists are notorious for not putting much money into it.

I ran across a website while doing my research called Fanatics (wearefanatics.com/college-bowl-game-explosion); beware, as it is a multi-store organization that supports sport merchandize and memorabilia. What interested me was a graph (2015) that showed a decline in average bowl game attendance as the number of bowl games increased.

The graph and narrative point out that supply did not increase demand. Still, the Rose Bowl and the national championship command the highest and most profitable attendance, but not Popeye’s Bahama Bowl.

I think it is time for the wizards to go back into their respective bottles and rethink this failed alchemy that dulled the competitive sport of college football and diminished the traditions that kept fans on the edge of their seats throughout the season. Even football loyalists want excitement.

Clever by a half; that is failing to recognize unintended consequences. Or is it clever by 40 times and growing exponentially meaningless?

Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

Editor’s note: I was correct on 23 of the 40 bowls-plus-national-championship predictions (one wasn’t played because of dangerous weather), but lost a key friendly wager — to former Gazetteer, proud Iowegian and Hawkeye fan Pat Coate — in the Iowa-Mississippi State game. — MD

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